861.404/450a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt)

1112. For the Ambassador and Harriman. The President has today given the following statement to the press:

“Because of the varied and conflicting ‘interpretations’ of the remarks made by the President in answer to a newspaperman’s inquiry at the press conference last Tuesday, the verbatim transcription of the stenographic records of that conference is hereby released and permission given for its direct quotation.

This action is taken because of some misquotations which have appeared.

Since the Soviet Constitution declares that freedom of religion is granted, it is hoped that in the light of the report of the Polish Ambassador an entering wedge for the practice of complete freedom of religion is definitely on its way.

Question: Mr. President,—the State Department got out a letter from the Polish Ambassador today, showing that the Russians are going to allow the Poles to have their own churches.

The President: I have just got it—the mimeographed State Department letter—but I also got it from another source this morning.

Question: Would you care to make any comment on it?

The President: No. It speaks for itself.

Question: (interposing) Mr. President—

The President: (continuing) As I think I suggested a week or two ago, some of you might find it useful to read Article 124 of the Constitution of Russia.29

Question: What does that say, Mr. President?

The President: Well, I haven’t learned it by heart sufficiently to quote—I might be off a little bit, but anyway: Freedom of conscience—

Question: (Interposing) Would you say—

The President: (Continuing)—Freedom of religion. Freedom equally to use propaganda against religion, which is essentially what is the rule in this country; only, we don’t put it quite the same way.

For instance, you might go out tomorrow—to the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue, down below the Press Club—and stand on a soapbox and preach Christianity, and nobody would stop you. And then, if it got into your head, perhaps the next day preach against religion of all kinds, and nobody would stop you.”

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In view of the outstanding importance of this question from the standpoint of public opinion in the United States, the President earnestly hopes that you may be able to secure from the highest authorities of the Soviet Government some statement which can be sent to the press in this country which would be confirmatory of, and responsive to, the statement contained in the third paragraph of the text above quoted.

It is desired that you make every endeavor to see that some statement of this kind is made by the Soviet authorities at the earliest possible moment.

  1. Article 124 of the Soviet Constitution reads as follows: “In order to insure to citizens freedom of conscience, the Church in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is separated from the State and the School from the Church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom from anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”